The Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) last night celebrated creators who impact American music, culture and society with a star-studded event at their state-of-the-art headquarters in Washington, DC. Dubbed RIAA Honors: Pioneers of Hip-Hop this year, the groundbreaking accomplishments of Grandmaster Flash, MC Lyte, Jeff Harleston and Chairman Hakeem Jeffries drew an influential crowd from both the music industry and Capitol Hill.
RIAA Chairman and CEO Mitch Glazier welcomed the esteemed guests saying, “thank you for joining us in the RIAA’s new home – our own museum of music honoring the greatest of the great from rock to pop to Latin to jazz, and of course, Hip-Hop. From New York streetcorners all the way to Capitol Hill, few can claim the kind of greatness these pioneers have created and championed. And tonight, we celebrate their contributions to the power of Hip-Hop!”
Also taking the stage for special remarks were National Museum of African American Music President & CEO Henry Hicks, Stupid Fly co-founder Cheapshot, Billboard Editorial Director Hannah Karp, VIBE Editor-in-chief Datwon Thomas and 14th Librarian of Congress Dr. Carla Hayden. Additionally, RIAA COO Michele Ballantyne and Chief Policy Officer Morna Willens spearheaded presentations throughout the evening while RIAA VP Artist & Industry Relations Jackie Jones served as Executive Producer for RIAA Honors: Pioneers of Hip-Hop.
The evening began with Jeff Harleston, General Counsel and Executive Vice President of Business & Legal Affairs for Universal Music Group, who was fêted for his leadership championing the power of Hip-Hop and helping to build the modern music business – making sure it has room for both icons and new voices.
The world leader in music-based entertainment with operations in more than 60 countries, UMG’s labels include Capitol, Interscope, Republic, Motown, Island, Def Jam, Decca and Verve; leading global music publishing company, Universal Music Publishing; and the industry’s leading merchandising company, Bravado. Harleston is a proud Founder of the Universal/Motown Fund, an endowment dedicated to providing financial assistance for artists from the 1950s, ‘60s and ‘70s, as well as helps to lead UMG’s Task Force for Meaningful Change.
Common offered a warm congratulations to Harleston via video, noting “you continue to be true to nurturing and cultivating artists, true to making sure you held up people who weren’t normally getting light and getting heard. I’m always inspired and proud, seeing you prevail and seeing what you do for so many artists.
You have been a true Pioneer for us Hip-Hop artists who have unique voices and wanted to do different things, and you brought our work to a higher level.”
Next up, Yo-Yo gave tribute to MC Lyte saying, “the commitment, the work ethic, the honesty, the love, the self-belief. That makes a person an icon, that turns a girl from Brooklyn with a notebook into a Pioneer!”
The multi-media entertainer began schooling other MCs in the art of rhyme at just 17 years old and Lyte has since proven that greatness always prevails with a notable list of “firsts” – rap artist to perform at Carnegie Hall, female rapper to certify a GOLD single, female solo rapper nominated for a Grammy Award or be inducted on VH1 Hip-Hop Honors. Rapsody and DJ Face then dropped the beat for a mash-up of “Poor Georgie,” “Cold Rock a Party” and “Ruffneck.”
Dr. Hayden followed with a Policymaker of the Year acknowledgment for Chairman Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY-08). Through his five terms, he has been a tireless advocate for his constituents, the causes of social and economic justice, and the music community at every turn. He notably played a key role in the historic Music Modernization Act to bring American copyright laws in line with the streaming revolution.
“This man moved the culture forward, brought something new into the world, and has continued to break new ground, still a Pioneer to this day,” reaffirmed DJ Kool as Big Tigger introduced DJ Jazzy Jeff and Mix Master Mike to knock out a set spinning “The Big Beat” (Billy Squier), “Take Me to the Mardi Gras” (Bob James), “Apache” (Incredible Bongo Band), “Get Up and Dance” (Freedom), “Good Times” (Chic), “The Champ” (The Mohawks) and “Cavern” Liquid Liquid. Dr. Dre appeared with a special video message commemorating Grandmaster Flash saying, “he gave future artists a platform to express themselves and a way for people to hear, understand and feel the music in an entirely new way.
Your contributions to Hip-Hop, culture and American music are beyond compare.” Grandmaster Flash’s career began in the Bronx with neighborhood block parties that would become a global sensation — the dawn of a musical genre and his own scientific invention of “The Quick Mix Theory,” becoming the first DJ to physically lay his fingertips on the body of the vinyl and manipulate it. Grandmaster Flash became the first DJ to ever be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame with other notable accolades following.
The advent of Hip-Hop paved the way for countless artists who together have created a uniquely American art form, sharing compelling stories of its rappers and musicians to become the most popular genre of music in the US today. Preserving that legacy is vital, and the National Museum of African American Music will debut a special episode of its STATE OF BLACK MUSIC podcast on September 29 that features these honorees chatting with co-host Tamone Bacon. The content will be deposited as archives in the Library of Congress.
Reception sponsors were DISCUS and Billboard, the latter of which also featured Glazier speaking about these trailblazers in a piece leading up to the event.
In October and November, fresh videos from these Pioneers of Hip-Hip will be released as part of Un-Rapped. The Stupid Fly original short series presents celebrities opening classic Hip-Hop trading cards and sharing more about those who inspired them as a way to uplift the legends while educating a new generation about the power of this music – and the greatness of its Pioneers. Follow Stupid Fly Media on Instagram to watch.